As leaders, coaches or parents we strive to be the best we can be. Most of us hold an intention to be present and accepting of what life offers us at any given moment. Yet often many of us struggle with racing thoughts and a never ending commentary that takes us away from the present moment and into aspects of our personality.
For me that often happens when a person or situation triggers me. My reaction and related thoughts then take over and send me for a spin – either reviewing past similar situations or creating the worst possible future scenarios with all its complicated consequences. Then my body is still present in the situation but my mind is not.
One of my favourite mindfulness teachers, Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, says: “Our true home is not in the past. Our true home is not in the future. Our true home is in the here and now. Life is available only in the here and now, and that is our true home.”
So how do we bring ourselves back home when the mind is caught up in worries, planning or judgement either related to the past or the future?
First of all we need to recognize and become aware that our thought process has taken us out of the present moment. If we can catch ourselves when the mind begins to wander, we can then bring it back to the now. And how do we do that? Over the years I have developed a variety of tools that can help us return to a state of mindfulness. When we are in a state of mindfulness, mind, body and heart are fully present. The energy of mindfulness carries within the energy of concentration. The following practices are concentrations that help to create an anchor and a place to rest the mind in the present moment.
- ) Enjoy your breath: place your attention onto your breath and say to yourself as you breathe: “Breathing in, I know this is my in-breath. Breathing out, I know this is my out-breath.” Repeat this a few times until your breathing is slow and calm.
- ) Walk mindfully: Bring your attention all the way down into your feet. Feel the ground underneath you as you walk very slowly. Be present for every step and let your mind quiet.
- ) Be aware of your body: Touch your belly or chest with your hands and feel the heat of your body, the breath and your pulse under your hands. What other body sensations do you notice?
- ) Shift your attentionto something that you love right in front of you, it could be a flower, the eyes of a child, a cloud, a candle etc. Really take in what you see, rest with the image and pause.
Meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein describes mindfulness as the “… quality and power of the mind that is deeply aware of what is happening – without commentary and without interference”. Often the habits of a wandering mind are very strong and it takes practice to recognize them. I love the concept of mindfulness as a “practice”. It is not something that once learned is automatically going to be there. It is an on-going exploration that involves commitment and awareness. And yet through practice our minds will slowly steady and so does our presence in life.
With my embodied leadership clients I assess what parts of their personality get in the way from engaging with life more fully and what patterns take them out of the present moment. As an example: I know I have a tendency to worry (which would show up as my mind creating all kinds of “what if” scenarios). I can then name and welcome this aspect of myself as it arises. I sometimes even say to myself: “Oh, here is the part of me again that worries.” Then I have a choice to pay attention to the thoughts or to let them dissolve and instead bring the mind back to the present moment.
Leadership Embodiment founder and coach Wendy Palmer talks about mindfulness as a form of self-cultivation: “By stopping, sitting silently and observing his or her mental state, the practitioner can begin to discover the inner workings of the mind.”
It is up to us to stop frequently and ask ourselves if we are actually here in heart and mind. Because if we are able to be present, we are more fully available to the people we are leading at home or at work.